New models to remake marque
Ford has talked up its post-manufacturing future in Australia at an elaborate event in Sydney on Tuesday attended by the US-based brand's senior executives.
However, the car maker has refused to commit to local production up until its planned 2016 deadline, saying only "that's the plan".
"We'll always take into account the changing business environment, but we're very excited about how we transition here and we're very excited about the 2014 Falcon too," chief operating officer Mark Fields said.
Global Ford boss Alan Mulally made a surprise appearance at the event attended by more than 800 people, and was the first of four big hitters who flew to Australia to shed some light on the future of the brand months after announcing it would cease local vehicle production in October 2016.
"We're here to show our commitment to Australia," Mr Fields said.
While dodging specific questions about long-term investment and individual models, Mr Mulally kicked off what will no doubt be a long campaign to convince Australians Ford as a brand is here to stay.
He said the company would be "accelerating" new vehicle launches by replenishing its model range by 2017 and introducing at least three new nameplates, including the reintroduction of the legendary Mustang muscle car. The executives also revealed the Everest SUV, which was developed in Australia to be made overseas.
Ford claimed the $1.9 billion it had poured into local design and engineering teams over the past six years made it "the largest automotive R&D investor in Australia". "Our Australian team is working in a fully integrated and harmonious way with our other three product development centres around the world," Asia-Pacific vice-president David Schoch said. "Their role in our future growth is critical."
The car maker's shorter term targets are bolstering lacklustre sales, which have been dragged down by record low sales of the Falcon. Ford's market share has dropped from more than 20 per cent in the mid-1990s to just 7.7 per cent this year.
Ford also gave a teaser of the new Falcon, which won't arrive until late 2014. As well as taking on the new breed of SUVs and mid-sized cars, the Falcon will be competing with the Holden VF Commodore, which went on sale in June and has experienced a rare sales boost.
Sales of the Falcon - and large cars in general - have fallen sharply over the past decade to the point where the former market leader now fights to stay in the list of top 20 bestsellers in Australia.
Last month, just 594 Falcons were sold, setting a new record low for the model, and just one-seventh that of the top-selling Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 small cars.
For the first seven months of 2013 Falcon sales are down 27 per cent, with just 5664 units sold. In the 1990s Ford regularly sold more Falcons than that in a single month.